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Farrell and the Schmidt legacy

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'We did an unbelievable amount of outstanding things under Joe... I'd be absolutely foolish not to harness those bits'

Andy Farrell cast quite a shadow at Wednesday’s Six Nations tournament launch in London. Lined up alongside his rival coaches, he was left looking down on them all. 

Same with the imposing way he filled the same top-table chair his contemporaries had each taken their turn occupying at the east-end Tobacco Dock. 

Without doubt, his domineering frame stands out a mile when keeping company. But the pressing question is can he quickly catch the eye for his unproven head coaching ability? 

As large a presence as he has when filling a room, the shoes he is stepping into in Ireland remain enormous. Joe Schmidt’s legacy might not be dating well if a recent caustic remark by someone close to a squad member to RugbyPass is a barometer of the general feeling that exists.

The New Zealander lost his way in 2019, for sure, and the supposedly increasingly restrictive way he ran the squad didn’t reflect well, the flat mood in the camp feeling like a glass of champagne that had lost its fizz.

(Continue reading below…)

The 2020 Six Nations launch in London

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However, Schmidt’s numbers overall during his six-year tenure stacked up impressively – 76 outings, 55 wins, a win ratio of 73 per cent. Farrell was no mug in this department, being along for 41 of Schmidt’s matches and emerging as a winner on 30 occasions (a similar win ratio of 73 per cent). 

The trick now, though, is to forcibly emerge from the shadow of Schmidt, to put his stamp on the overall operation rather than be constrained to a defence coaching remit where Ireland conceded 148 tries on his watch – on average 3.6 per game. 

Shutting the door tightly is now Simon Easterby’s particular remit, with Farrell now tasked with looking after the sum of all parts and not the one part of the overall sum. His baby steps, though, will be taken with the recent past still very fresh in the mind.

“We did an unbelievable amount of outstanding things under Joe Schmidt and I’d be absolutely foolish not to harness those bits,” he said on Wednesday in response to a RugbyPass query on what sort of style he will look to embed now that he running the whole shooting match. 

“Now, do I have an idea of where I want to take a few little bits of the game under Joe and make them how I want to make them? Of course I do and we will see how we progress with that along the way.”

This warm-weather week training in Portugal then will be critically important in Farrell putting his own spin on things. Three and a half years operating as Schmidt’s sidekick must give way to an air of authority and a belief among the Ireland squad that they can potentially achieve great things under their new boss man. 

Farrell may have a contract penned through to the 2023 World Cup, but progress must be witnessed in the next year and a half to ensure he doesn’t become a rugby version of football’s David Moyes, who struggled when taking up the mantle at Manchester United after Alex Ferguson called time on his stellar stint in charge. 

The Englishman knows all about the bottom line. “Winning: it matters. We won’t shy away from that,” he admitted, but how he goes about trying to achieve this is of immense importance. He quickly needs to make this a distinctly Farrell operation, not something inherited from Schmidt.

“It’s an all-round game,” he replied when quizzed on what certain aspects must improve if his Ireland are to regain the ground and the reputation lost in 2019 in Schmidt’s final year. “Look, the fundamentals of the game never change. That has got to be at a premium and those fundamentals need to keep developing. 

“You can’t win any rugby game without a good set-piece or without a good defence or without good game understanding, so those aspects of the game need to keep on developing as well. Hmm, attack is always a difficult process because it takes a little bit longer but we want to improve that along the way. It might take a little bit of time but we will get there. We WILL get there. 

“So at the same time we want to keep developing but the key is to make sure that we don’t get too ahead of ourselves, that we don’t stand for something. That is key for us, you know what I mean? 

“Making sure that we come out of each particular game and stand for what we said we were going to stand for in the days before that. I suppose every coach that comes in would like to put their own stamp on the game, but without getting too ahead of ourselves.”

Having only had the players in previously for a 24-hour pow-wow in the lead-up to Christmas, having them at his beck and call for a week in the Portuguese sun before they fly back to Dublin for the February 1 opener versus the Scots is most important. The time is nigh for Farrell to cast his large shadow on proceedings.

WATCH: Andy Goode and Brendan Venter didn’t hold back on this week’s The Rugby Pod as they discussed Saracens and the salary cap scandal

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'We did an unbelievable amount of outstanding things under Joe... I'd be absolutely foolish not to harness those bits'
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